HOLYOKE — Mayor Joshua Garcia took time for a discussion on the importance of voting in another edition of his Mayor’s Update with Holyoke Media.

Speaking on election day itself, Garcia talked about the challenges of getting voters to show up to the polls that not only the city faces, but the country.

“This is what’s happening everywhere across the country and it’s the million-dollar question and there’s various factors involved. I don’t think its just one reason over the other,” Garcia said. “The most important part of government is engagement, but it’s also the most difficult part of government as well.”

With that being said, Garcia added that the city had to remain committed to keeping the public involved and doing their best through outreach to get people involved in the civic process.

When discussing further about civic participation, Garcia said there is an inadequate representation of neighborhoods serving on boards and committees in the city, which reflects its civic engagement outside of voting. He added that as it shows how income can impact civic engagement, there is still the main issue that voter turnout and participation in the city is very low.

“Poor neighborhoods, traditionally everywhere, don’t actively engage as much as those most affluent neighborhoods which puts a great deal of power and control in our affluent neighborhoods and the dynamics. But even with that, the voter turnout is still low in the city of Holyoke,” Garcia said. “Voter turnout is still extremely low, and I would say the same holds true for cities and towns everywhere that are much more affluent than our gateway city.”

Later in the day when polls closed for the presidential primary, 4,378 Holyoke voters cast ballots which made just over a 15% voter turnout for the election. Last fall in the Holyoke municipal election voter turnout was just higher at 17%.

Garcia said the two points to the conversation on civic participation in the election process were focused on why turnout varies within communities across neighborhoods as well as why is voter turnout low overall across the country.

“That goes toward are we doing a good job as a society teaching and institutionalizing the importance of civics to the general public. It’s critical, because obviously these positions, people have to do them. One way or another someone is going to serve in that role. It’s disheartening to see low engagement,” Garcia said. “You’re talking about people stepping into roles that have major impact to people’s lives and the community doesn’t really think of it that way.”

Garcia added another example impacting turnout was that there are people with the feeling that there is no point to participate in the process because as a single voter, their ballot doesn’t impact the process. He said he will remain committed to education and working with the public in trying to raise participation in votes and overall civic engagement in the city’s government.

Garcia in closing said Election Day is always an example of one of the great things people love about the country and that is the freedom to self-govern, something that so many have fought to protect and that has its importance displayed through the voting process.

“I don’t think people are sitting back intentionally saying I don’t want to put into practice [voting] because I just don’t care. There may be some people that are like that, but I think just as a country we’re just not doing a great job institutionalizing how important it is to engage typically in your local government,” Garcia said. “We teach a lot about state and world politics. We teach nothing about local government and how to act locally, so it’s not even in our educational DNA for lack of a better term. But who knows, in time, maybe that shift will happen. And in the meantime, we do what we can do to close that gap and engage the citizenry so that we’re making sure that our government is functioning properly. Even though I’m proud of how far the city has come on that front, there’s certainly a lot, a lot, more work to do.”

tlevakis@thereminder.com | + posts